Opponents Call for Fracking Ban, Even with No Natural Gas Drilling in New Jersey

Tom Johnson | June 14, 2011 | Energy & Environment
The goal: send a strong message to neighboring states to suspend hydraulic fracturing until it can be evaluated

Aiming to put pressure on the Christie administration and the Delaware River Basin Commission, lawmakers and environmentalists yesterday called on the state to enact a ban on natural gas hydraulic fracturing in New Jersey.

Even while acknowledging a ban might not have a huge impact since there is no natural gas drilling in the state, proponents argued that passing such a bill would send a serious message to other states, including Pennsylvania, that the practice ought to be stopped until environmental officials can determine the risks behind it.

The push to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, dubbed “fracking” by opponents, is driven by the technology used to recover natural gas by injecting water, sand and toxic chemicals to break up dense rock formations.

Rich deposits of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formations in Pennsylvania and New York have led to a flurry of applications to drill there, a prospect that has environmentalists worried that fracking could taint the drinking water supplies of millions in the Delaware River Basin. More than 1.5 million people in New Jersey alone rely on the river for their drinking water.

While New Jersey to date has not been home to any drilling, Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen) said yesterday that it is only a matter of time before the practice begins in the Utica formations, which occur in parts of Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon counties.

“Whether it’s the toxic mix of known and unknown chemicals used in the fracking process, the loss of billions of gallons of fresh drinking water, or the toxic waste water produced throughout the fracking process, any one of these potential dangers outweighs any benefits of gas production,” Gordon said.

Trying to bolster their case, opponents released a report by Food and Water Watch that suggested that natural gas drilling poses unacceptable risks to the public, threatening the public drinking water of millions of people in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

“What we know and don’t know about fracking is enough reason to ban it,” said Jim Walsh, New Jersey director of Food and Water Watch. “We are talking about our drinking water and a whole lot more.”

In its report, the organization said the rapid expansion of fracking has brought rampant environmental and economic problems to rural communities, saying accidents and leaks have polluted rivers, streams and drinking water.

The Delaware River Basin Commission has proposed regulations that would govern natural gas drilling, but environmentalists say those rules are too weak to protect water supplies. The rules are expected to be adopted this fall, lifting a moratorium on drilling in the basin that has been in effect.

Jeff Tittel executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the state needs to be in the forefront of efforts to block fracking. “We need to block it until it become safe one day,” Tittel said. “Unless we have a ban, we can destroy the Delaware Basin.”